Class-action lawsuit alleges racial discrimination at Power & Light

A class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of African-Americans who claim to have experienced racial discrimination at Kansas City’s Power & Light Entertainment District was filed Monday in federal court.

The petition requesting the class action alleges a pattern and practice of “harassment, fraud, targeting, ejecting, exclusion, humiliation” and more for “the purpose of controlling and/or reducing/limiting the number of African-American patrons.”

Officials connected to The Cordish Cos., the district’s owner-operator, said the filing was baseless.

“We all work collaboratively to ensure that the guest experience is excellent for all of our customers,” said Zed Smith, director of Asset Management, one of several Cordish-tied business entities. “We take pride in our customer service and the customer service of our tenants, and we vigorously deny this trumped-up and meritless claim.”

Lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Dante A.R. Combs and Adam S. Williams, two African-American men who hold college degrees and work in professional sales for the pharmaceutical and medical industries.

The petition cites three instances from 2010 or 2011 in which Combs and/or Williams allege they were denied admission to a nightclub or singled out for harassment — in one case leading to a physical fight — despite being professionally dressed and not initiating trouble.

The class-action petition alleges a “pattern and practice” at the entertainment district to use Caucasian men as “rabbits,” people hired to create a disturbance leading to ejection or arrest of African-Americans.

Cordish-related companies deny the allegations and said the lawsuit is the second “baseless” action filed against the companies by the attorney for the plaintiffs.

The attorney, Linda Dickens, represents a separate plaintiff, Glen Cusimano, a former African-American employee in the district, who alleged a “rabbit” altercation related to his firing. Cordish officials disputed Cusimano’s assertions. That action was filed last week in Jackson County District Court.

The petition in federal court estimates that “many hundreds and perhaps thousands of individuals, based on the popularity of the Power & Light District,” may be members of the proposed class action.

The petition alleges that African-Americans, more frequently than members of other races, “suffered injuries including, but not limited to: inconvenience, insult, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress and other actual damages, which in sum exceed $5 million.”

Smith responded for Cordish that “the Power & Light District has welcomed millions of visitors for years without a single complaint as recently confirmed by the Kansas City Human Rights Department” and that it has “multiple layers of independent third-party security” in the district.

The Kansas City Human Relations Department had filed a discrimination complaint against the district in 2009 concerning the dress code. Cordish had denied that allegation, but the dress code was modified, and the complaint was settled in 2010.

Human Relations Director Phillip Yelder said his department has not had any discrimination complaints about the entertainment district in several years.